The government hasn't been able to keep pace with the growth of technology, and the Transportation Department is looking to catch up.
Navigation apps such as Google Maps are popular but constitute a "gray area" when it comes to laws that ban the use of cell phones while driving, The New York Times reported. A new measure proposed by the Obama administration would give the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration permission to regulate apps in a fashion similar to how the agency currently regulates cars.
Part of a larger bill, the measure would spell out NHTSA authority "to set restrictions on the apps and later order changes if they are deemed dangerous."
Automakers are in favor of the proposed transportation bill, but technology companies aren't equally supportive, saying the government simply can't keep up with the industry.
"They don't have enough software engineers," said Catherine McCullough, executive director of the industry group Intelligent Car Coalition, as quoted by the Times. "They don't have the budget or the structure to oversee both Silicon Valley and the auto industry."
TechCrunch listed Google Maps, Waze, Apple Maps and Nokia Maps as navigation apps that would come under the new guidelines, which officials say would only affect an app's use in the car, not the software's actual development.
In a California court case two years ago, driver Steven R. Spriggs received a $165 ticket for looking at a map on his phone while driving, but an appeals court later reversed the conviction.
The NHTSA began working on guidelines for navigation systems built into dashboards last year and plans to focus next on hand-held devices.
"If you put restrictions on the built-in systems designed to be used while driving, it's going to encourage people to use hand-held devices that are not optimal for use by a driver," said Gloria Bergquist, a spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, an industry trade group, as quoted by the Times. "We believe that if you're looking at a smaller screen, that's less effective than looking at a larger screen on the dashboard."